Here’s The Earliest Known Appearance of Sherlock Holmes On Film – Sherlock Holmes Baffled (1900)

As we approach the return of the world’s greatest detective in one of his latest incarnations – the BBC’s Sherlock, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock Holmes and Martin Freeman as Doctor John Watson – it seems perhaps appropriate to take a look at his earliest film appearance, 1900’s Sherlock Holmes Baffled.

Mutoscope,_1899_(bis)This 30 second short was originally produced for penny arcade machines known as Mutoscopes, which were patented by Herman Casler in 1894 and marketed by the American Mutoscope Company. This particular film was produced by the American Mutoscope and Biograph Company in 1900, though its copyright was not actually registered until 1903.

For those unfamiliar with the concept, the Mutoscope was atually developed as a competitor to Thomas Edison’s Kinetoscope.The device can be seen in the picture at the right. The idea was that the viewer would drop their coin into a slot on the machine which would then turn on an internal light and by turning a small crank and looking into the viewfinder, the viewer could watch the associated film. In a way, it’s perhaps a bit misleading to call this a film per se, since it was not designed to be projected on a screen and actually consisted of individual image frames printed onto flexible cards attached to a circular core which revolved with the turn of a user-operated hand crank, however, since it was originally shot on film at a frame rate of 30 frames per second, the designation still stands. (Perhaps in cases like this, the more accurate term would simply be “motion picture”.)

As far as the actual film itself, according to Wikipedia, the director and cinematographer of Sherlock Holmes Baffled was Arthur W. Marvin (May 1859 – 18 January 1911), a staff cameraman for Biograph. The identities of the actors portraying Holmes and his adversary are unknown, and the film was assumed to be lost for many years, until it was rediscovered in 1968 as a paper print in the Library of Congress by Michael Pointer, a historian of Sherlock Holmes films. Again, quoting Wikipedia

Because motion pictures were not covered by copyright laws until 1912, paper prints were submitted by studios wishing to register their works. These were made using light-sensitive paper of the same width and length as the film itself, and developed as though a still photograph. Both the Edison Company and the Biograph Company submitted entire motion pictures as paper prints, and it is in this form that most of them survive. The film has subsequently been transferred to 16 mm film in the Library of Congress collection.

maxresdefaultObviously, due to its short running time, there is no actual development of either of the characters involved, and the film really seems to only exist for the purpose of showing early bits of camera trickery, especially the disappearance/reappearance of Holmes’ adversary. As far as the identification of the central character as Holmes, well, that basically comes from the film’s copyright title card and its marketing.

Nonetheless, the film does have a certain distinction in being the first identified film portrayal of the character and by extension, also the first detective film.

Anyway, here it is, the world’s first taste of Sherlock Holmes as a film character.

(BTW, I need to give a special shout out here to Fritzi over at Movies, Silently for initially bringing this wonderful short film to my attention. If you’re at all a fan of the silent film era you should definitely be checking out her terrific blog as she has an obvious love for the genre and is consistently posting a lot of great content there. So, thanks, Fritzi, for all you do.)


For The Love of Film – These Amazing Shadows (2011)

“Somebody says ‘Why would you save movies?’ and I ask those people back ‘Why do you save your family pictures?'”

TAS_Poster_view-2_LATER_IN_THE_DAYThat’s the closing line from the above trailer, and it pretty well encapsulates what this documentary is all about. These Amazing Shadows is a 2011 documentary produced by Christine O’Malley and directed by Paul Mariano and Kurt Norton. It is ostensibly a history of the National Film Registry, but what it really is is a love letter to Americsn film and those who care about films past, present, and future.

For those who don’t know, the National Film Registry is a list of films selected by the United States National Film Preservation Board for preservation in the Library of Congress. The Film Preservation Board, in turn, was established by an act of congress known the National Film Preservation Act of 1988. Each year, the NFR presents a list of up to 25 American films to the Librarian of Congress for special recognition, and he may then modify the list as he sees fit. The only requirements for inclusion on the list are that they must be at least 10 years old (though this was not true for the first year’s selections), and that they be considered “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. There are no requirements as to length, genre, or any other consideration. As a matter of fact, a film does not even have to have had a theatrical release in order to be included on the list. This has led to an incredible amount of diversity among the films included, and now the Registry includes everything from newsreels to Hollywood blockbusters, from silent films to music videos, from short subjects to serials. As Dr. James H. Billington, the Librarian of Congress who has overseen the registry since its inception has stated,

Taken together, the … films in the National Film Registry represent a stunning range of American filmmaking—including Hollywood features, documentaries, avant-garde and amateur productions, films of regional interest, ethnic, animated, and short film subjects—all deserving recognition, preservation and access by future generations. As we begin this new millennium, the registry stands among the finest summations of American cinema’s wondrous first century.

But all of that is really just background. As I said earlier, what this documentary really is is a love letter to the glory of American films, a reminder of where they (and we as film lovers) come from, and a celebration of those who are trying to keep that past alive. In some ways, there’s really nothing “new” in the actual information presented here, especially for those who have been following the fight for better preservation of our film heritage, but for those who haven’t, it certainly can be an eye-opener.

800px-FilmRegistryLogoAlso, it’s just a fun look back at not only some great movies that you may remember, but an introduction to ones that you may be completely unaware of.

One of the things that the doc also focuses on is that it’s not just the quote big unquote movies that deserve attention, but a lot of times the smaller or completely overlooked items, even home movies, that deserve attention, protection, and preservation, because a lot of times it’s those little items that really serve to provide a kind of “time capsule” of where we have been and where we are as a country and as a people, and that can help to remind us of the past and what it was truly like.

Sadly, as the film also points out, even being named to the registry doesn’t ensure that these films will actually be preserved, and there are a lot of others that are in danger of being, or already are, lost to the ravages of time and will never even be known or seen again.

In the end, These Amazing Shadows is very much worth watching if you consider yourself a film buff. But even if you don’t, it’s still worth your time, and who knows, maybe after watching it, you will come away remembering the effect that some of these movies have had on you in the past, and a sense of wonder at what else might be out there that might be worth taking a look at and why preserving our film heritage is so important, not only for their entertainment value, but for the link that they can provide to our culture and our humanity.

(Post script: I’m providing below what appears to be a shortened version of the film that was cut for presentation on PBS. I haven’t watched this version for comparison to its full-length counterpart, which i really recommend seeking out, but if you don’t want to do that, you can at least check this out.)

More Film Preservation News – UCLA Festival of Preservation and the Library of Congress

Another couple of quick notes on preservation efforts that have crossed my desk today:

On the other end of the country from my previous post, the 2013 UCLA Festival of Preservation will be kicking off this Saturday, March 1, at the Billy Wilder Theater in Los Angeles.  As the director of the Festival puts it,

After last year’s herculean effort to put together the massive L.A. Rebellion program, now touring North America, the Archive has not rested on its laurels, but has put together a new UCLA Festival of Preservation for 2013. It is my great pleasure, as director of UCLA Film & Television Archive, to introduce the 2013 “FOP,” which again reflects the broad and deep efforts of UCLA Film & Television Archive to preserve and restore our national moving image heritage. Even in an era of tightening budgets and ever decreasing University-State funding, the Archive is committed to protecting and celebrating our film and television assets.

A full list of the films to be shown (which looks to be a pretty incredible line-up of films ranging from classic movies to independent cinema and cutting across a broad swath of genres) and more info on the festival can be found here.

Also, I thought I’d take just a moment to share with you this video from the CBS Evening News a few nights ago which talks about the preservation efforts that are being carried out by the Library of Congress not only on films but audio and other video recordings. Unfortunately it doesn’t appears to be embeddable, but you can watch it at this link:

Obviously, the efforts of the LOC and many others are extremely important in preserving the legacy of our shared cultural history, or as the CBS report puts it, to “re-record America’s cultural past and preserve it for our digital future”, and those efforts should be celebrated, praised, and supported.